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USS Anchorage (LSD-36)

The USS Anchorage, hull designation LSD-36, was an amphibious ship in the U.S. Navy. Classified as a dock landing ship, the Anchorage was commissioned in 1969, served for more than three decades, and was decommissioned in 2003. She was an important part of the fleet during the Vietnam War and earned six battle stars as a result. She was, in fact, the most decorated dock landing ship serving in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, the Anchorage was also a ship that was loaded with harmful asbestos. She was constructed during a time when asbestos use was about to wind down but was still strong. It was used to insulate machinery and boilers, to protect workers against heat and fire, and to strengthen materials on ships. It also caused a lot of harm putting sailors and officers at risk of being exposed to fibers and of developing devastating asbestos illnesses many years after active service.

About the USS Anchorage

The Anchorage was the namesake of the Anchorage class of dock landing amphibious ships that were built between 1965 and 1972. The class numbered just five. The Anchorage displaced more than 14,000 tons when fully loaded and was 553 feet long. She was powered by two boilers and propelled by two turbines and two propellers. This heat-generating equipment was one major reason for having asbestos on board. It had to be well insulated. The Anchorage could carry 24 officers and 300 enlisted men or women.

The main purpose of the Anchorage and her sister ships was to carry landing craft to supplement those carried by the LPD class of ships. The LPDs were able to carry more men but fewer landing craft. The Anchorage ships were larger than earlier ships but were similar in design. The Anchorage earned several awards for active service, including the Vietnam Service Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, and the Kuwait Liberation Medal, among many others.

Construction and Repairs

The USS Anchorage was laid down on March 14, 1967 and launched on May 5, 1968. She was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was commissioned on March 15, 1969 under the command of Captain Percy Stuart Beaman at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was constructed to launch large landing craft and to shelter small water craft during amphibious landing. A small armament was built into the ship as well.

For shakedown training the Anchorage was sent to her home port of San Diego and conducted training up and down the California coast. Over the years she underwent several periods of repairs and modernizing upgrades, including in 1972, 1976, 1982, and 1996. Repairs were conducted in various locations, with major upgrades occurring in San Diego.

Service History

The USS Anchorage served in the U.S. Navy for over 30 years, including active service in the Vietnam War and during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf. Her first of 19 deployments to the western Pacific began immediately after post-shakedown repairs. Her service in the Vietnam War would earn her six battle stars. As the war came to an end she carried Marines back to the U.S. and participated in Operation Frequent Wind. This operation evacuated thousands of civilians from Saigon.

Throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s the Anchorage served in various operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. She also participated in training exercises, Marine transport, and other events such as a visit to namesake city Anchorage, Alaska. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Anchorage would again be deployed for active service.

In 1991 she was sent to the Middle East to serve in Operation Desert Storm, supporting Kuwait against an invasion by Iraq. She also served in Operation Continue Hope in Somalia in 1994, and Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf in 1996. In 2000 she assisted the USS Cole after that ship was bombed in the waters off Yemen. The Anchorage participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before being sent back to San Diego to be decommissioned in 2003. She was sunk as a target during training in 2010.

Asbestos on the USS Anchorage

Asbestos is a natural but harmful mineral that was long prized for its ability to insulate and fireproof materials and ships. It was also used because of its light weight, flexibility, and strength. For decades it was an important component in ships of all types, including U.S. Navy ships like the USS Anchorage. On ships like the anchorage, asbestos was used to insulate pipes, turbines, and boilers. It was used in fireproofing materials, in gaskets, in firefighting and gunner gear, in ropes and adhesives, and even in flooring and ceiling materials. Hundreds of products that went into navy ships contained asbestos.

Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

The usefulness of asbestos was eventually superseded by its harmfulness to those exposed to its tiny fibers. If any material with asbestos breaks down—from age and wear and tear, from repairs, from accidents and damage—the small fibers come loose and enter the air. From there anyone in the vicinity can inhale or ingest those fibers. In some people exposed in this way, the fibers will cause enough damage to lead to illness decades later.

Ships like the Anchorage that were loaded with asbestos were dangerous for the men and women serving on them because the fibers of asbestos could often come loose. Compounding the issue is the lack of ventilation and the enclosed spaces on ships. Anyone on them could have been exposed, but some were put at greater risk. These include anyone who worked in the engine or boiler rooms, who made repairs or performed maintenance on components, such as insulated pipes, that contained asbestos, and those who used firefighting gear made with asbestos. Also at increased risk were the workers who constructed the ship or made repairs and upgrades.

An example of exposure in a veteran can be seen in a Veterans Administration claim made by a man who served on the Anchorage. He reported working as a fireman on the ship and being exposed to asbestos as a result. He then claimed to have developed asbestosis later. In another claim a veteran reported having developed asbestos-related respiratory illnesses after working as an electrician in the engine room on the USS Anchorage. Electrical systems were often insulated with asbestos.

The veterans who served on ships like the Anchorage were put at serious risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other respiratory illnesses. These veterans are able to make claims with the Veterans Administration, but the process can be challenging. If you served on one of these ships and are sick now, let an experienced lawyer help guide you through making a claim.

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